The thought sears through your brain like a newly sharpened knife through raw meat.
Your head tips back oh so slightly as you let out a short breath.
A large pulse of adrenaline cascades through your body.
Then you remember it was just a thought, a possibility.
It didn’t really happen.
But it might have.
Your breathing returns to normal, your heart rate slows, you look around you and check.
Yes, everything is alright.
Children are playing, laughing. Oblivious to your fear.
But it was close.
If you hadn’t looked, screamed, acted on a wave of intuition, that searing knife would have kept stabbing you over and over.
And the release you craved would never come…
According to the CDC, drowning is the second largest cause of death in children under 15, just behind traffic accidents.
750 children will die this year in water.
The perceived wisdom is that people who are drowning become distressed.
And they mark that distress by shouting, waving, thrashing around in the water.
But that’s not how drowning works.
It’s quiet, it’s quick.
The victim literally slips away.
And so as the summer vacations start and the water beckons, let’s have a look at the myths that surround drowning.
Myths that, if dispelled, should alert you when something is wrong.
Heartstopping Myth #1: Drowning children will call out
People who are drowning are unable to speak. Speaking is a function secondary to breathing. If someone cannot breathe, they cannot speak. There is also no time. When a child is drowning, she will alternately sink below and then rise above the water’s surface. While they are above the surface a child will have to exhale and inhale before they sink again. There is not enough time to cry out.
Heartstopping Myth #2: They will wave their arms
The instinctive reaction of a drowning person is to extend their arms outwards. This response enables them to lift their head up for air. But just long enough before they sink. Again. Drowning children are unable to voluntarily control their arm movements. The prime motivation is to breathe. That takes priority. And it takes everything. Everything.
Heartstopping Myth #3: They will thrash
People who are drowning remain upright in the water. And don’t kick. They are quiet. They are focused on breathing.
Heartstopping Myth #4: Drowning children are unattended children
50% of all child drownings will occur 25 yards or less from a parent or other adult. That’s 375 children a year who die unnecessarily, unnoticed by the people meant to protect them and who themselves are condemned from then on to lead lives of guilt, grief and self-recrimination.
• Head low in the water, mouth at water level
• Head tilted back with mouth open
• Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
• Eyes closed
• Hair over forehead or eyes
• Not using legs – vertical
• Hyperventilating or gasping
• Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
• Trying to roll over on the back
• Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.
The indications we believe to be drowning are, in fact, signs of aquatic distress, a precursor to the real thing.
And they may not be present at all.
These people can assist in their own rescue – catch a ring, grab a rope – but if this stage, if it was ever present, has passed, a rescuer has 20 to 60 seconds to reach a drowning person.
So lose attention around water at your peril. No book is so important, no conversation so riveting.
Face the water, scan the water, walk around, count your children.
Like the photograph negative of your colorful holiday snap.
Notice the silent, the still, the missing.
You may save a child’s life.
As well as your own.
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